By Iqbal Jassat
20 years ago when the Oslo accords were signed on the White House lawn amidst a huge amount of fanfare, a Palestinian voice made a compelling argument against it.
The voice belonged to Edward Said.
Writing in the Oct 1993 issue of the London Review of Books, Said’s case rested on the argument that the accords set aside international legality and compromised fundamental national rights of the Palestinian people. It could not advance genuine Palestinian self-determination which required basic elements of freedom, sovereignty and equality. Instead, according to Said, the accords rendered perpetual servitude to Israel’s colonial project.
He described the accords aptly as “an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles”.
An opposing view in the same publication countering Said was by Avi Shlaim. His case for Oslo was based on an argument that claimed that it would set in motion a gradual but irreversible process of Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and that it would pave the way to Palestinian statehood.
Today, two decades later, Shlaim admits that “Said was right in his analysis and I was wrong”.
Writing in the Guardian he says that though the accords seemed progressive in that by mutual agreement Israel recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] as the sole representative of the Palestinians, the PLO also recognized the state of Israel, but the fundamental reason for its failure was “that Israel reneged on its side of the deal”.
Shlaim’s current assessment is a scathing attack on Binyamin Netanyahu whom he blames for making Oslo unworkable. He says that back in 1996 when Netanyahu returned to power as the rightwing leader of Likud, his hostility and antagonism towards Oslo was clearly evident. Denouncing it as incompatible with Israel’s right to security and the historic right of the Jewish people to the whole land of Palestine, Shlaim claims that Netanyahu spent his first three years as PM in attempts to arrest, undermine and subvert the accords concluded by his Labor predecessors.
In his Guardian article, Netanyahu is described as a “procrastinator par excellence, the double-faced prime minister who pretends to negotiate the partition of the pizza while continuing to gobble it up”.
Did Oslo falter and break down because Likud-led governments negotiated in bad faith? Did it fail because the much-vaunted peace process was a charade? In fact it was worse than a charade argues Shlaim: “It provided Israel with just the cover it was looking for to continue to pursue with impunity its illegal and aggressive colonial project on the West Bank”.
Though the admission that Said’s reservations were correct comes at a time when the renowned literary giant and passionate advocate for Palestinian rights is no longer alive, Shlaim’s belated acknowledgement of an error of judgment does nevertheless add substance to current cynicism about the Kerry initiative, given that Netanyahu represents the Israeli face of so-called negotiations.
It remains a tragic comedy of errors placing Mahmoud Abbas on the other end of the equation, where he has been for all these years representing nothing more than abject failure for the Palestinian cause while his role as a “Bantustan Chief” sees him shamelessly fulfilling Israel’s security mandate against his own.
One wonders therefore whether the PLO seriously believes that the weak-kneed Obama administration which caved in to Netanyahu on the expansion of illegal settlements will ever deliver fundamental Palestinian rights?
– Iqbal Jassat is an Exec Member of the Media Review Network – Johannesburg – South Africa. Visit: www.mediareviewnet.com.